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人人都有的超能力 只是你自己不知道

更新时间:2019/4/17 16:48:59 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

The power of our hidden senses
人人都有的超能力 只是你自己不知道

I am sitting at my desk with my eyes closed, moving a dinner plate back and forth in front of my face while repeating “Test! Test! Test!”. It may look eccentric, but I am trying to teach myself the fascinating skill of echolocation: navigating the world by echo, just like a bat, or a dolphin.

我坐在书桌前,双眼紧闭,拿着一个碟子在面前来回挥舞,嘴里反复念叨着“测试!测试!测试!”。这可能看上去很古怪,其实我正在学习回声定位,这项本领很神奇:利用回声来探索世界,就像蝙蝠和海豚那样。

Echolocation has gained prominence in recent years as a skill that some blind people use to map their surroundings with astonishing precision. They can detect trees, buildings or doorways by making a clicking sound with their mouth and listening for the echo.

近些年,回声定位颇受重视,一些失明人士用这种方法感知周边环境,当中就有美国教育家基什(Daniel Kish),能对周围情况判断得十分准确。他们用舌头和上颚发出一种咔哒声,然后听其回声,能分辨出树木、建筑物还有出入口。

But research has shown that the basics of orienting yourself this way can be learned by anyone, blind or sighted. A growing body of research encourages us to expand our sensory potential – awakening senses that have been neglected, suppressed, or even considered outside the human realm.

不过,研究表明,无论眼睛能否看到,所有人都能习得这项技能。越来越多的研究鼓励人们去挖掘感官的潜能,唤醒感官的知觉,不再将其遗忘废弃不用,或是认为人类不具有那些本领。

Human echolocation has been known as a concept since the 1940s. But it has only been studied systematically in the last decade, both as a potentially life-changing skill for blind people and as a way of examining how our brain deals with sensory information.

上世纪40年代就出现了人类回声定位的说法。但直到过去10年才有了系统研究。对于失明人士而言,回声定位有望改善他们的生活,同时也可以让我们了解大脑处理感官信息的方式。

“We measure the best possible human echolocators, what we refer to as ‘echo experts’,” says Lore Thaler, a psychology professor at Durham University and one of the world’s leading experts on human echolocation. “These are typically people who’ve used it for a long time and show just really good acuity. They can do things which, if you’re new to this, you just cannot do.”

英国杜伦大学的心理学教授泰勒(Lore Thaler)是人类回声定位领域首屈一指的专家,她说:“我们与回声定位能力最强的人合作,我们称他们是‘回声定位专家’。这些人通常已经使用这项技能很久了,用回声定位得相当准确。如果你没接触过,可没他们那种本事。”

Audio-visual

视听相长

Just by using mouth clicks, echo experts can detect whether a disc one metre away from them has been shifted by about the width of a finger. They can tell whether an object 2m (6ft 6in) away is a lamppost, car or tree. Even those quite new to the skill can detect a wall more than 30m (98ft) away.

回声定位专家只需用嘴咔哒几声就能知道一米之外的碟子位置有没有变,一指宽的变化都能感觉出来。他们可以辨识出2米(6英尺6英寸)之外的物体是灯柱、轿车还是树木。刚学这项技能没多久的人也能感知到30米(98英尺)开外的墙。

This does not mean echolocation provides people the same accuracy as vision. Some bat species can use ultrasound to hunt moths, but human echolocators struggle to track such tiny targets. And since echolocation only works for three-dimensional objects, it cannot be used to read printed texts, for example.

回声定位的准确程度跟用眼睛看还是比不了。有些蝙蝠利用超声波来捕食飞蛾,但人在用回声定位时却很难捕捉到这么小的目标。而且回声定位法只适用于三维实物,在阅读文字信息这类事情上就无能为力了。

However, Thaler says it is still a very powerful technique. Used alongside traditional aids such as a cane or a guide dog, it can be transformative for blind people, her research has shown. It can help them travel more safely, avoid obstacles at head level, even recognise their own porch. “It’s these little things that can make a difference to how confident someone is, and if they are happy to go out,” she says.

但泰勒表示这项技能依然很厉害。根据泰勒团队的研究,回声定位法与盲杖、导盲犬这类传统的辅助方法相结合,对盲人具有颠覆性意义,能让盲人的出行更为安全,避免撞到头,甚至可以辨识出门廊。她说:“正是这些小事可以大大提高人们的自信心,让他们愿意出门。”

Although Thaler is sighted, she can echolocate and has taught the technique to blind adults and even children as young as three.

虽然泰勒不是盲人,但也会用回声定位法,还在教授那些看不见的大人孩子使用,其中最小的才三岁。

“If you are in a sighted world, like we are, and then you lose your vision, you really lose a whole lot in terms of how you can access things and how you can move around,” she says. “Having echolocation in there makes it much easier, because it gives you more control over the space you’re exploring.”

她说:“我们这样本来能看到的人,如果失明,那在取用东西和行动方面可就会大打折扣。回声定位法能让事情容易许多,能让你在摸索探路时不会那么束手无策。”

If you want to have a go, try the experiment with a plate or tray. Close your eyes, start speaking or making a clicking sound, and move it back and forth and from side to side. Listen for the change in sound.

如果想学回声定位法,可以用碟子或托盘试试看。闭上眼睛,说点什么或是发出咔哒声,前后左右挥舞盘子,辨别声音中的细微差异。

Without opening your eyes, you will gradually be able to tell where the plate is. As a next step, Thaler recommends slowly rotating in a corner, eyes closed, and using your sound to tell whether you are facing the wall, or the room.

慢慢的,你闭着眼睛就能知道盘子的位置。接下来,泰勒建议人们到房间的角落闭上眼睛慢慢转圈,用声音判断是面对着墙还是房间里面。

Thaler and her colleagues are currently studying brain scans of sighted and blind people learning to echolocate. So far, preliminary results have shown something rather startling: when sighted people learn to navigate by sound, they engage the part of their brain that usually deals with vision.

泰勒和同事们正实验让有视力的人和盲人都学习回声定位法,并同时扫描观察他们大脑的活动。目前初步的实验结果很出人意料:有视力的人在学习回声定位法时,大脑负责视觉的区域会变得活跃。

“We like to think of vision as a sense that’s by itself, and we have certain resources dedicated to it,” such as the eyes and specific parts of the brain, says Thaler. But instead, our brain may be able to process sensory information somewhat more flexibly – “seeing” with our ears, if you like. It’s just that usually, for sighted people, there is no reason to do so.

泰勒说:“通常我们认为视觉是一个独立的感官,人体有专门的器官和组织是用来看东西的,”比如眼睛,以及大脑中的特定区域。但其实,大脑在处理感官信息时比这灵活,有需要的话可以用耳朵来“看”,只不过视力正常的人没有必要这么做。

As Thaler points out: “If you are a sighted person, most of the time you get the spatial stuff through vision. There’s very little incentive to extend your sensory repertoire, because you get by with vision. So why bother?”

泰勒指出:“有视力的人多数情况下会用视觉来掌握周围的情况,并不会想要使用其他感官。既然靠视觉就够了,何须再费事?”

Sensory teamwork

感官协同作用

In everyday life, our real sensory superpower lies not in any individual skill, but their combination. This is because each sense is relatively weak on its own.

在日常生活中,人们的感官在协同作用时才能凸显出真正的威力,独立工作时都相对薄弱。

“Oftentimes people are quite surprised, when they are forced to use just one [sense] in one way, how bad they are at it,” says James Negen, a research associate in the department of psychology at England’s Durham University.

英国杜伦大学心理学系的副研究员尼根(James Negen)说:“当人们被迫仅用一种感官时,通常想不到自己竟会表现得如此差劲。”

Our peripheral vision, for example, is rather poor. But we can combine it with another sense, like hearing, to make out where something is – an approaching car, for example. This is known as the “bimodal precision advantage”, and can be crucial to something as simple as safely crossing the road.

比如说,我们眼睛的余光很弱,但可以同时运用其他感官,比如加上听觉来判断物体的方位,知道有车正在驶来等等。我们称之为“双模式精准优势”,这对很多事情都至关重要,包括安全过马路这类小事。

But there’s a snag: children do not yet have this skill.

但有一个难题:儿童还没有这项技能。

“Children under 10, even children in infancy, do a lot of stuff that requires putting together what they’re seeing and what they’re hearing, or what they’re feeling and what they’re seeing, all these different multi-sensory processes,” says Negen. “But this very specific thing, where you coordinate the two to be more precise than with either alone – children have failed to show that effect in lots of studies.”

尼根说:“10岁以下的儿童乃至婴儿在进行很多活动时都需要视觉和听觉相辅相成,或是需要感觉和视觉联动等等各种各样的感官协作。但让感官相互配合达到优于单独使用的效果,在很多研究中儿童都没有做到。”

For children who have lost some of their eyesight, this can make it hard to benefit from echolocation. Adults can use the technique together with their remaining vision, and do better than with either sense alone. Children generally cannot do this. They tend to tune either into their vision, or their hearing. The question is whether they can be taught to use both.

对于视障儿童来说,回声定位法对他们作用不大。成年人可以借助剩余的视力运用回声定位法,比单用一种感官更加敏锐,但儿童通常做不到,他们往往完全依靠视觉或是听觉。那么问题在于儿童能否学着运用两种感官。 

Negen and his team succeeded in doing this in a lab setting. They gave children detailed feedback on how they used each sense in a task. The children were then able to combine the senses like an adult and make more accurate judgements. Further research could show whether such training has a lasting effect.

尼根和他的团队在实验环境下教会了视障儿童运用两种感官。他们会详细告诉孩子们在每项任务中各项感官的表现情况,这样他们就能像成年人那样调动多种感官,判断得更为准确。这种训练的效果能否持久则有待进一步研究。

I am continuing my own experiments with echolocation, using Lore Thaler’s advice for beginners. My biggest achievement so far has been to make it through a doorway with my eyes closed, without touching the sides. It’s strange to think that this ability has been inside me all my life, unused and unnoticed, until a quirky experiment with a porcelain plate brought it out.

我还在按照泰勒对初学者的建议,继续学习回声定位法。迄今为止最大的进步是能闭着眼睛进出门口,不会碰到左右两边。这种能力一直存在,没有用过也不知道,直到我用瓷盘做了个小实验这项本领才显现出来,想想真是神奇。

Who knows what other hidden senses are waiting to be discovered?

说不定还有其他的秘密感官有待挖掘呢!

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